Indiana Jones 4

June 3, 2008

D83086DD-0E8E-444E-8EAF-0A9A5908B26A.jpgWarning, there are spoilers in my rant below.

I went to see Indiana Jones 4 last week. It’s exactly what you should expect from George Lucas these days.

It’s amazing how a movie can be good and stupid at the same time.

The movie starts out well enough. Indy is captured, forced by some Russians to look for something mysterious, fights his way out, etc.

Then he finds himself in the middle of nowhere, and a town is nearby. So he takes off for the town. Only to find that it’s a nuclear test site. Then the sirens go off.

Up to this point, it’s been pretty classic Indy. It’s good. Then comes the stupid part.

He gets in a lead-lined fridge. Now this might be his best bet, but most likely you would not survive in such a small lead-lined box.

Then the fridge gets tossed all over the landscape. And Indy makes it out without a scratch.

One word: stupid.

Now the gag could have been saved pretty easily – let’s say there’s a bomb shelter in the backyard. Surely the government did some tests that included different backyard bomb shelters to test their effectiveness. It could have even been made comedic by having some monkeys in there or something. Maybe a video camera and switching to a monitoring station where somebody notices Indy in with the monkeys.

But here’s the thing: Lucas is so fascinated with technology that he’d rather consider a solution that included a fridge flying through the air and bouncing all over the place. Easy enough effect shot for the ILM’ers.

The movie was full of stupid stuff like that. As well as other dumb stuff. For instance:

Reminiscing over dear ol’ dad and Marcus Brody. Move on!

After being chased by KGB agents, Indy spends some leisurely time at his place translating a bunch of cryptic symbols. Surely the KGB would have thought to check his house?

The romance was really flat. I mean, Anakin/Padme flat. You got the feeling that Lucas directed some of it, it was so dry.

Don’t even get me started on the jungle chase scene.

Now the general idea of the movie wasn’t so bad. In fact, it had a lot of potential. A lot of people have complained about the ending, but I didn’t mind that so much. I think this movie was lost in the little moments. It moved so fast, there wasn’t much room for characters to interact, unless it was in the middle of another action moment.

All in all it was still entertaining. But stupid at the same time. Not awful, but not great.

So now Indy 4 is my new yardstick. Every movie I see from now on will either be “better than Indy 4″ or “dumber than Indy 4.” It actually works pretty well to have a mediocre film as a yardstick.

Happy Tax Day 2008

April 15, 2008

Happy tax day, once again. And remember: with the FairTax, today could be just like any other spring day.

By the way, over at the FairTax site they have a little petition going on that they’re sending to Congress today. Head on over to sign it if you’re tired of the overly complicated way the federal government taxes you.

Now that’s change I can believe in…

Britt posted the other day about reading through the Bible. I’ve been thinking for awhile about reading through the entire Bible. I’ve attempted this in the past, always to get bogged down in some of the tougher Old Testament parts. I’ve read nearly all of the Bible at one time or another (taking Old Testament and New Testament classes in college certainly helped me complete that back then), but I haven’t made it a part of my discipline to read through the entire thing regularly. Heck, I don’t even read it regular enough as it is. So now I’m going to try to accomplish both.

One of the things that I’ve been encouraged with lately is to try to do it in a chronological order. This comes from discussions with people in our expanded house church community as well as comments Frank Viola has made in his books about it.

So I went looking on the web trying to find a simple downloadable PDF. At first I couldn’t find any – everyone wants you to visit their site regularly to figure out what to read next. But what I really wanted was something I could print out all on one sheet.

At first I couldn’t find anything, but I did find a place online that had everything listed out on one page. So I made my own PDF, which I’m now sharing with you:

ChronologicalReadingGuide.pdf

I make no claim on this, I didn’t come up with the plan, I just formatted the Word file and saved it as a PDF. Print out page 1, turn the page over and reinsert it into your printer, then print out page 2. Now you have a nice one page chronological reading plan you can keep with your Bible.

For what it’s worth, I’m not going to try to do this in a year, much less two or three times in a year. Maybe I’ll get it done this year, maybe not. I’m encouraged by those who have those kinds of goals, but like many spiritual disciplines, it’s best to start out simple and figure out what kind of pace you can manage. Especially with three small kids in the house.

New FairTax Book

March 3, 2008

Boortz and Linder recently came out with another FairTax book, called FairTax: The Truth: Answering the Critics.

It’s been billed as their effort to “answer the outspoken and misinformed critics” of the FairTax. The main disappointment I have with the book is that it really only does that for about two chapters.

The book is still good, though, including more history about how the FairTax developed. The book does a good job of dealing with criticisms, even if it’s a little short on explanations here and there. It does not assume that you’ve read their first FairTax book, nor does it assume you’re familiar with all of the aspects of the FairTax. Between giving some history on the FairTax, and explaining most of its basic concepts, it’s not until about halfway through the book before they really take on the critics.

Perhaps the best stuff in the book is towards the end, though. There’s a great section where they describe what it would be like to have lived under the FairTax all of your life – receiving your entire paycheck. No payroll taxes. Knowing exactly what government is costing. Not having to base business or investment decisions on their tax consequences. And then they describe a politician trying to come and sell the current system as an improvement. Taxing your income. Taxing business profits, so there’s a hidden tax cost in everything you buy. Taxing investments. Even taxing death.

It’s a very interesting way to look at it, and it really helps to make it clear how much simpler the FairTax is, and how it removes government from more day-to-day business and personal decisions.

If you’ve been suspicious of the FairTax, I highly encourage you to pick this book up. It’s less technical than the first one, in some ways, and more visionary in tone. And many of your questions and concerns about the FairTax are probably dealt with in this book.

One criticism I felt like they should have dealt with better is the progressive nature of the FairTax. They explain the prebate well, and how that prevents anyone from paying taxes on the basic necessities of life (defined by the poverty level), and they explained how this makes the FairTax progressive. They also talked a good bit about net effective tax rates under the current tax system. But I think they could have talked more about net effective tax rates under the FairTax. I’ve left comments about this over at FairTaxBlog.Com, and I’ll probably work on a post about this particular issue in the future. It’s really important to consider net effective rates when people initially react to the idea of a 23% inclusive consumption tax.

(Actually, if you have serious questions or concerns about the FairTax, check out FairTaxBlog.Com. There are a lot of supporters and critics that can support their points very well there.)

I think this quote does a good job of describing the overall goals of tax reform, and what the FairTax will enable.

Under the FairTax Vision for Tomorrow, every time an American buys a loaf of bread or a new car, he’ll know, to the penny, how much of that money is going to the federal government.

Our vision for tomorrow sees a government that’s a partner with the business community and the people, not an adversary; a government with a tax system that encourages economic development and the creation of the new business, rather than a government and a tax system that chases valued businesses to foreign shores.

Our vision for tomorrow is one where governance returns to the local level; were communities are allowed to make the important decisions regarding their government and their schools. No longer will politicians be able to hide regulations and programs that control every aspect of our lives in 9 million words of confusing and draconian codes and regulation. The FairTax will demand political honesty…

Our vision for tomorrow sees an America where jobs are insourced, not outsourced… sees America becoming the safest and most secure tax haven for trillions of dollars currently languishing offshore… sees an America that will enjoy a virtual $400-billion-per-year tax cut… an exporting powerhouse, selling goods and services into a global economy unburdened by the 22 percent tax component now burdening our price system…

People see all of this and say, “how can a different tax system do that?” One point that I haven’t seen made clearly enough, is that the FairTax wouldn’t be responsible for any of this. The truth is that these “benefits” would not be due to enacting the FairTax, they would be due to completely getting rid of all of the oppression of the current tax structure on our economic decisions, while still funding our government. It is not the FairTax that would produce such wonderful results – it would be the American people, unencumbered by an oppressive tax system. How can you disagree with that?

Deadlock

February 22, 2008

This is what is known in programming as a “deadlock”:

7F799CDC-FB61-4AA4-ACC8-85D6F439FC51.jpg

(Hat tip to The Daily WTF.)

So it’s December. And yes, I know I’ve been silent lately. I do plan on finishing my thorough review of Viola’s book. But this post is not about explaining why I haven’t been writing much lately.

Josh Brown asked me to write a guest post on his blog, titled The Consumptive Church: The Model Speaks Volumes. If you follow Josh’s blog at all, you probably know that I comment on his blog frequently. Usually trying to push the conversation here or there. Josh and I are quite opposite politically, but it’s fun and helpful to see where we intersect spiritually. In any case, he did a great job describing our blogging relationship in the introduction.

I won’t repost my whole article here, but here’s an obligitory quote:

Jesus’ approach to ministry, and the realization of the early church, went directly against the norms of the Jewish religion (as well as the similar Roman/Greek pagan religions that were abundant outside of Israel). The church continued to be a counter-cultural movement until Christianity found favor with the Roman government and was subsequently polluted and corrupted by becoming the “official” religion of the state.

But the New Testament is clear. We are called to live simply. This is not so that we can give all of our money to the church so that the church can be extravagant. That basilica/cathedral style of religion is simply the Jewish and pagan systems repackaged with a new name.

Head on over to read the full post. Thanks to Josh for giving me a guest spot. And I’ll be back here with more stuff soon.

>Pastor Mark Batterson, in The Elephant in the Church, asked:

What are some taboo topics we ought to be talking about? What are some confessions the church needs to make? What are those issues that everybody is thinking about but nobody is talking about?

So I couldn’t help but comment.

How about:

1) We spend most of our money on ourselves. We pay lip service to the “widows and orphans” thing, but in reality we really just want better bands, more charismatic speakers, and more comfortable seats.

2) We don’t really live out Christ’s commandment to “love one another.” We think it sounds good, but we’d rather just have our churches be REALLY good at marketing instead.

3) We don’t seriously ask people to consider the cost of following Christ. We think that whole “take up your cross and follow me” thing makes sense for missionaries, and maybe some pastors and staff, but not really anybody else. We just want to have a good job, and nice house, and live comfortably. We don’t really want to hear that death imagery that Jesus liked to use with His followers.

4) Church leadership is more than willing to allow the other three so they can keep money-giving members in the seats each week.

(Not) Transforming Culture

August 10, 2007

There’s a great article in Christianity Today this month by Mark Galli titled On Not Transforming the World. The subtitle is “we have better and harder things to do than that.”

We are certainly responsible for going to the ends of the earth and making disciples from people of every nation. There is plenty in Scripture about doing justice and loving mercy and feeding the hungry and caring for the widow and orphan. But I find little or nothing about us having the task of transforming the culture.

Britt has talked about how Changing the World is something that isn’t found in scripture. At least not something that is assigned to us.

Galli’s article touches on how service is our number one task, in terms of transforming the world:

Servants aren’t about world-changing initiatives as much as about washing the dirty feet of the travelers sitting at their kitchen table. Jesus never tells us to do anything because it will transform the culture. Surprisingly, he didn’t seem interested in transforming the Roman Empire, one of the most oppressive and unjust cultures in history. He seemed rather to think that society would always have economic disparity, and that not only should changing Rome not be a priority, but also we should not even object to underwriting it with our taxes…

I remain puzzled as to why we’re so bored with the very things Jesus asks us to do, like picking that foreigner up out of the ditch, giving away our goods to the poor, going to court with a young man who’s being railroaded by the system, taking an orphan into our home, going the extra mile with the oppressive and manipulative, forgiving the offender, baptizing, and witnessing. I find these things really, really hard to do. I fail all the time. If I can’t even do these things well, why would I believe that I could transform my culture, let alone change the world?

Despite my political rants and opinions, I’ve been learning more and more that it is not our job to make political systems reflect the church. Does that mean we should be apathetic towards politics? I don’t think so. But it makes it all the more difficult to discern when we are pushing our own religious agenda into politics.

People tend to think that Christ’s mission was about transformation, and that in today’s culture, we should redeem the culture (by keeping it sanitary), transform social politics (by enforcing charity), or other high ideals. But by doing so, we are trying to place a significance onto ourselves that simply isn’t rooted in scripture. Galli says “we all face the common temptation of Adam and Eve. We want to feel significant.”

Scripture is clear that Christ’s mission was about service, and that this is our mission also. In today’s culture, I think the targets of that service are clear. While it is hard, it is not a complicated thing to fulfill what the scriptures have required of us. And it is about doing it ourselves, not about creating a governmental structure to force everyone else to do it our way.

Divisions and Wisdom

July 29, 2007

Some of you are saying, “I am a follower of Paul.” Others are saying, “I follow Apollos,” or “I follow Peter,” or “I follow only Christ.” Can Christ be divided into pieces? Was I, Paul, crucified for you? Were any of you baptized in the name of Paul?

For Christ didn’t send me to baptize, but to preach the Good News – and not with clever speeches and high-sounding ideas, for fear that the cross of Christ would lose its power. (1 Corinthians 1:12-13, 17)

Even in the early church, people started picking one “leader” over another. Some were trying to align themselves with Paul, Apollos, or Peter. Basically, these were different guys, they had different approaches to ministry, and some people thought one guy had it “right” moreso than the other. Early on, the church was in danger of being divided. So this is Paul’s attempt to prevent what would eventually become our present-day denominations.

Paul goes on:

As the Scriptures say, “I will destroy human wisdom and discard their most brilliant ideas.” So where does this leave the philosophers, the scholars, and the world’s brilliant debaters? God has made them all look foolish and has shown their wisdom to be useless nonsense. Since God in his wisdom saw to it that the world would never find him through human wisdom, he has used our foolish preaching to save all who believe.

Remember, dear brothers and sisters, that few of you were wise in the world’s eyes, or powerful, or wealthy when God called you. Instead, God deliberately chose things the world considers foolish in order to shame those who think they are wise. And he chose those who are powerless to shame those who are powerful. God chose things despised by the world, things counted as nothing at all, and used them to bring to nothing what the world considers important, so that no one can ever boast in the presence of God. (1 Corinthians 1:19-21, 26-29)

The main point in this passage is that Christ “is the one who made us acceptible to God” (v30). But there is another implication here.

Where did the divisions start? The division started because Paul, Apollos, and Peter each had a unique approach to ministry. And though they each pointed people to Christ, they were influential to the point where people were following them instead of Christ.

Paul is indicating here that the wisdom of man is useless to God – meaning that God will use the foolish and the weak to spread His gospel. Yet our modern-day pastors ensure that their leadership skills are top-notch. They utilize the best statistical methods to make sure their worship services are having an “impact” by tracking attendance, monetary giving, or even the number of cars in the parking lot. They employ the best consultants to help them tweak their message and presentation to be friendly to their target demographic. This kind of approach is the exact same thing any modern-day CEO would do. This is the best of human wisdom. If it can grow a profitable company, of course it can grow a church.

But the proof is in the pudding, as they say. Or in the fruit, as Christ said. In his research, George Barna paints a bleak picture that the “churched” population is still lost. This is the result of human wisdom – building large buildings, filling them with a lot of people, but the end result being that you can’t tell them apart from the rest of the world. And on top of that, division between believers is stronger than it ever has been.

Paul seems to paint a different picture. But in order to get there, we have to learn to not rely on human wisdom. Which means a lot less of acting like a CEO would, and a lot more acting as Jesus did when He chose the twelve and told them to train others in a similar fashion.

“Clever speeches and high-sounding ideas.” Doesn’t that sound exactly like what a typical approach to church is today?

“Don’t smoke, drink, cuss, or chew, or hang out with those who do.”

“I can assure you of this: if you are associated with the use of beverage alcohol, I think I dare exaggerate not to say that 99% of all doors of ministry in the Southern Baptist Convention will be closed to you.” – Al Mohler, president of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, 2005

As Dan Kimball asks, “would Jesus then have 99% of the ministry doors shut on Him?” Apparently, in the Southern Baptist world, the answer to that question would be “yes.”

I think that the concept of “balance” is one that is lost on traditional Christianity. To be fair, though, the situation is improving. But every now and then you’re reminded that there is still a lack of tolerance in the Christian world to things such as drinking alcohol.

I’ve heard many stories from people who grew up in churches where you couldn’t go to the movie theater, couldn’t go to the ballpark, couldn’t go to the bowling alley, couldn’t use playing cards, etc. because of the association those places had with “sinful” activities such smoking, drinking, cussing, and chewing.

Yet there is a simple truth – while all of them are potentially harmful and/or disgusting, we simply cannot label smoking, drinking, cussing, or chewing sin.

True enough, smoking regularly will kill you. But I know someone who smokes one cigarette a year. Is that sin? Binge drinking is dangerous, and damages relationships and bodily functions. But Jesus turned water into wine. Was that sin? While the Bible says we should not take the Lord’s name in vain (a concept much more complex than we make it out to be), standards of speech are entirely subjective and culture-specific, and words flow in and out of vulgarity over the ages. How can we label uttering a specific word sin? And as disgusting as I think chewing tobacco is, how is it any different from smoking?

The issues surrounding all of these issues are simply related to “balance.”

As an example:

Nevada Couple Blame Internet for Neglect
RENO, Nev. – A couple who authorities say were so obsessed with the Internet and video games that they left their babies starving and suffering other health problems have pleaded guilty to child neglect.

The children of Michael and Iana Straw, a boy age 22 months and a girl age 11 months, were severely malnourished and near death last month when doctors saw them after social workers took them to a hospital, authorities said. Both children are doing well and gaining weight in foster care, prosecutor Kelli Ann Viloria told the Reno Gazette-Journal.

Michael Straw, 25, and Iana Straw, 23, pleaded guilty Friday to two counts each of child neglect. Each faces a maximum 12-year prison sentence.

Viloria said the Reno couple were too distracted by online video games, mainly the fantasy role-playing “Dungeons & Dragons” series, to give their children proper care.

This is a classic example of how we don’t know how to balance our lives. Michael Straw received $50,000 in an inheritance, and spent it on a new plasma TV and computers. Then he and his wife tuned everything else out, including their children.

Somewhere out there, there’s probably a pastor who is preparing a sermon on how evil games are, and how good Christians shouldn’t own an XBox or Playstation. That type of reaction would have been quite common fifty years ago. Instead of such a reaction, we should be talking about how to appropriately balance such activities, and how to recognize when an activity begins to consume us.

At the Catalyst Conference last year, Louie Giglio discussed a Christian winemaker as an illustration, and mentioned that he and his wife enjoy wine occasionally.

On the official Catalyst blog post summarizing that session, they had to shut down comments. The anti-drinker comments got particularly nasty, and of course prompted nasty comments from the opposing side. But in the end, Louie took a lot of flack for admitting that he (gasp!) enjoys wine.

Trying to prevent any consumption of alcohol is an attempt to push us back into legalism, the same kind of legalism that said that bowling was a sin. The same kind of legalism that said that Christ couldn’t heal on the Sabbath. Getting drunk is a sin – that’s clear in the New Testament. But to take the step further and say that therefore we can’t drink at all, is once again acting like the Pharisees.

In any case, if Jesus were to step back into this world today, he’d be hanging out in the bars and reaching out to the people there. And just like the Pharisees back then, the Baptists (among others) would be outside complaining about it.

Full disclosure: I don’t drink. I honestly don’t like the taste of alcohol. But stuff like this makes me want to acquire the taste for it…